Watch the moment Brittney Griner was exchanged for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout on a UAE airport tarmac




Brittney Griner.
Brittney Griner.  
  • See the moment Brittney Griner was swapped for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

  • The two prisoners were exchanged on a UAE airport tarmac, ending Griner's nearly 10-month detainment in Russia.

  • In a second video, Griner said she was "happy" to be getting on a plane and going home.

Video published by Russian news agency Tass shows the moment Brittney Griner was swapped for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout on the tarmac at an airport in the UAE.

The video shows a group of three men walking alongside Griner, who is sporting short hair and a red shirt. ESPN's TJ Quinn reports that the WNBA superstar cut her signature dreadlocks by her own violition because "she didn't want to deal with it during a Russian winter."

In the clip, the trio, plus Griner, approaches Bout along with another suited man. One of the men with Griner then shakes hands with Bout and pulls him in for a hug. Griner then walks off with the American man who had been escorting Bout.

Another video shared by Russian news outlet RT chronicles Griner's day, starting with her signing release papers and following her as she is driven to a plane and gets on.

"What's your mood?" A voice is heard asking Griner.

"Happy," she responded, chuckling and smiling.

 

The prisoner swap was announced Thursday morning, with President Joe Biden tweeting that Griner "is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home," at 8:14 a.m. local time.

The Biden administration initially proposed the prisoner exchange in June to bring the basketball superstar back to the US. For most of Griner's detainment, the US attempted to negotiate a two-for-one swap involving the release of both the basketball star and fellow wrongfully detained American Paul Whelan.

But securing the 52-year-old's freedom has proved far tougher than freeing other wrongfully detained Americans. A former US Marine-turned-security executive, Whelan was arrested at a Moscow hotel in December 2018 over suspicions that he was an American spy.

American detainee Paul Whelan holds a sign ahead of a hearing in Moscow.
American detainee Paul Whelan holds a sign ahead of a hearing in Moscow.  

He was subsequently convicted of espionage and sentenced to 16 years in Russian prison, with the possibility of serving time at a labor camp. And because of that conviction, "for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul's case differently than Brittney's," as Biden said Thursday.

Griner had been sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony after being arrested in a Moscow airport in February for carrying vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. She was charged with the large-scale transportation of drugs and moved to a Russian jail shortly after, before sitting for a trial in Russia.

Bout, on the other hand, was 10 years into his 25-year sentence in the US for conspiring to provide "material support" to a terrorist organization, promising to supply them with anti-aircraft missiles, and engaging in a plot to kill Americans and US officials.

Viktor Bout
Viktor Bout  

He was first arrested in Thailand in 2008 - but not for the high-stakes trafficking operations that served as inspiration for several movies, documentaries, and books - and his nickname: "The Merchant of Death." Instead, Bout was caught in a Drug Enforcement Agency sting operation. American officials lured the elusive arms distributor to engage with purported representatives of a Colombian guerilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

He offered to sell weapons to the rebels, even with the understanding that the materials could have been used to kill Americans. But even so, the Hon. Shira A. Scheindlin - a then-federal judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York who ruled on the case - thought her mandatory minimum 25-year sentence "was too high in the first place."

"It was mandatory. I had no discretion," Scheindlin told Insider. "I had to give the sentence I gave."

DEA agents escort Viktor Bout (center) off the plane after he was extradited to the United States.
DEA agents escort Viktor Bout (center) off the plane after he was extradited to the United States.  

Still, the reported prisoner swap deal had drawn some criticism, including from former chief of operations at the US Drug Enforcement Administration Michael Braun, who wrote in a Foreign Policy column that releasing Bout would pose a "grave threat" to national security and be a "slap in the face" of law enforcement who risked their lives to arrest him.

Former President Donald Trump also slammed the deal over the summer, calling Griner a "potentially spoiled person" who was "loaded up with drugs."

Despite the criticism, which a hostage negotiation expert told Insider can be explained by scientific theories, the US and Russia were able to orchestrate a deal to swap Griner for Bout on Thursday.

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